I Like to Watch

What's the funniest: Smokers trying to kick, vaginas with tentacles, or teary-eyed models? All your most probing questions answered here.

By Heather Havrilesky
Published November 9, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)
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A confederacy of dunces
Well, chickens, a brand new day is dawning. Isn't it a relief? Now we can finally come out of the closet as a nation and just admit to the world that we're a bunch of idiots. The little international peoples around the globe have suspected as much for years, but now we can drop the façade and relax a little.

It was exhausting, wasn't it? All those years we spent, pretending to care about education and international law and natural science and those complicated global treaties, with all their fine print. Man, it got tiring, acting like we were super-concerned with oil spills and Rwandan refugees and land mines! And what a drag it was, going to those really long U.N. meetings where the dude from Cambodia or Serbia or wherever would prattle on endlessly, and all we could think about were the curly fries waiting for us at the Burger Doodle down the street.

Why, I've been longing to show the world my true self for years -- you know, the one that gnaws on cardboard boxes and rolls in dead fish and spends hours at a time popping bubble wrap and staring out the window, a thin string of drool connecting my blubbering lower lip to the floor?

Now I can embrace my one true love -- television -- with a pure heart and a mind uncluttered by unnecessary concerns. Now I don't have to feel self-conscious about focusing my undivided attention on hot teenagers from Laguna Beach and models in shoes two sizes too small. Praise the Lord!

I would fear the repercussions of my ignorance, if I didn't know that God was an American. March on, freedom!

Mock the vote
If you missed the "South Park" premiere, here's a lovely summary from the show's episode guide:

"When PETA demonstrates against the use of a cow as South Park Elementary's mascot, the student body is forced to choose a new one. As the election approaches, Kyle tries to convince everyone that his candidate, a giant douche, is better than Cartman's nominee, a turd sandwich."

See kids? Only a chump would go to the polls to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Oh, wait. Only 10 percent of you voted on Tuesday -- I guess you already knew that.

The O.C., bitch
God, politics! Borrrring. Let's skip straight to the season premiere of "The O.C." last week, which was alarmingly good. Within the first few minutes of the show, Marissa swills hard liquor and announces plans to kick her mom's ass, and Summer refers to Seth as a "little bitch on a sailboat."

Meanwhile, Sandy and Kirsten are flipping out over their son's absence, and to make matters worse, their house is being remodeled! Some people's suffering knows no bounds. In another massive, tacky mansion nearby, Marissa's mom, Julie, is flitting about planning new ways to spend Caleb's money, but she also suspects that he's either "hopped up on blow" or something is "seriously wrong." She's right -- it seems that the feds are on his tail for some sketchy business practices, which probably means some brief but melodramatic courtroom scenes are just around the corner. Zzzz.

Back in Chino, Ryan is pretending to be dull and responsible, working construction, gritting his teeth at Theresa's overeager wife-and-mother behavior, and crawling into bed each night praying for a miscarriage.

But what about the little bitch on the sailboat? Did he drown on his way to Tahiti, or run out of PowerBars? It seems that everybody's favorite super-hot dork set his sights on Santa Barbara instead, then took a bus up to Portland, where, we're supposed to be convinced, he's having a groovy time hanging with former neanderthal Luke ("Welcome to the O.C., bitch!") and his gay dad. The little bitch is not very nice to Mommy and Daddy when they call, telling them he's never coming back to Orange County because he hates it there and he always has, plus his favoritest friend, Ryan, isn't there anymore.

Daddy visits. Seth pouts. Daddy leaves. Ryan visits. Seth pouts. Then Ryan gets a call -- the miscarriage he's prayed so hard and so long for has finally arrived! Ryan pretends to be sad -- he spends most of his time on the show pretending to be sad, anyway, so this isn't much of a stretch for him. Seth pretends to be sad, too, but you can see straight through to his inner child, who's sipping Bacardi like it's his birthday. Sad Ryan gets in his cab. Sad Seth stares at his shoesies. Sad music soars, but it looks like we can't find out what the sad music is anymore, since "The O.C." Web site, instead of listing the sad music like it used to, is selling it on its own "O.C."-branded mixes. And so, the march of freedom continues!

Sad Seth runs to Sad Ryan just as Sad Ryan is running to Sad Seth, and they almost embrace, but then Ryan says, "Does this mean I have to hug you?"

So, let's see. What have we learned? Hugging is for sissies, sailing is for little bitches, purgatory is living in Portland with a neanderthal and his gay dad, and hell is having your house remodeled. So many good, old-fashioned moral values to be savored here!

Smoke gets in your eyes
Chickens, there's only one thing better than watching shows with lots of good, old-fashioned moral values, and that's watching shows with lots of good, old-fashioned moral values while huffing paint thinner. That old paint thinner cuts off the oxygen to your brain straight away, and I'm telling you, every thought of those Iraqi bastards who bombed the World Trade Center will fly straight out of your empty skull, real quick-like!

That's when it's time to tune in to "Cold Turkey" (now on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on PAX), the show where a bunch of smokers live in a house together and try to quit smoking -- you know, sort of like "The Real World," except instead of "getting real," the smokers binge on fatty foods and backstab each other with disturbing zeal. So far the show's been pretty amusing, thanks to Francesca, little Ms. Anti-Everything, who's demonstrated an early propensity for storming off to her room and throwing herself on her bed face-first, then writing strange little phrases on pieces of orange tape and sticking them to the wall ("MOLEY," "STIR CRAZY," "EFF IT EFFERS"). "I didn't know it was gonna be a support group," she gripes, but refuses to take $4,000 and leave the house despite everyone else's insistence that she go.

Unfortunately, the rest of the group is pretty dull so far, beyond the fact that most of them look about 10 years older than they actually are. In fact, if producers really wanted to convince viewers to quit smoking, they'd drag the most prematurely wizened-looking group of humans onto the show and just let them talk, with their scratchy voices, about how much they love to smoke. Unfortunately, showing a bunch of people freaking out, daydreaming about smoking, and ripping each other to shreds doesn't exactly make your average smoker want to quit. And next week, we're told that a hot young babe is going to enter the house and she'll be allowed to smoke the whole time, plus, she'll offer cigarettes to some of the house members. That dirty harlot!

You know, this might sound like a stretch, but sometimes it seems like all these people care about is making the most sensationalist, attention-getting show possible so that their ratings will soar and they'll make more money! Nah, that's not true, I'm just feeling grumpy. Where's the damn turpentine?

Meet the monster
Once your brain cells start dropping like flies, you're going to want to tune in to "Drawn Together" (Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central), a show so juvenile it could only appeal to dim-witted children and those who cope with life's little foibles by inhaling common household solvents. Featuring a random collection of cartoon characters who live in a house together, "Drawn Together" stretches the limits of taste so far that using the word "taste" at all to describe the show is pure folly.

During the first episode, we're introduced to a gaggle of stereotypes, from an overweight Betty-Boop-like character named Toots to a head-shaking, finger-pointing black woman named Foxy, all of whom immediately start spewing insults at each other. Then there's the racist princess, who says things like "Why does Foxy hate me so? It's not like I'm the one who made her black!" Later, the princess and the black woman make out in the hot tub, then sing a ballad about it ("I'm totally Frenchin' a racist ho!" sings Foxy).

The show has its moments, don't get me wrong. In one particularly hilarious party montage, Toots inhales some nitrous while the rest of the cartoon characters scream "Suck! Suck! Suck!" Toots drops the empty balloon, then passes out, hitting her head on the edge of the coffee table, and the characters erupt in laughter. One of the characters gasps, while laughing, "She did not ... she did not just do that!" Sick, yes, but still somehow funny enough to justify its sickness.

The same can't be said for most of the humor in "Drawn Together." Of course, most of the pointlessly provocative stories subside considerably by the second episode, which focuses on ... Let's see ... Oh, yeah, the fact that, thanks to an evil curse, the princess has a hideous Octopus monster where her vagina should be. By the time the princess's "Octopussé" (as she refers to it) started gobbling up the house's residents, I had the remote in hand, ready to move on to something a little less depressing. Congratulations, kids. You've successfully mimicked the absurdist tone of "South Park" while recreating very little of the humor. Still, when you can offend a turpentine huffer with an 8-year-old's sense of humor, you know you're destined to be rolling in the Benjamins one day.

Model citizens
Quiz: What's more provocative than a house full of potty-mouthed cartoon characters and a house full of short-tempered smokers trying to quit combined? That's right, chickens. A house full of short-tempered models trying to win the vaunted title of "America's Next Top Model," mostly by trying not to elicit the scorn of Janice Dickinson.

And could Janice Dickinson be any more scornful? I usually love her surgically enhanced über-demon act, but last week she was downright cruel, saying of Toccara "if her body could just slim down 150 pounds, that would be good." As unrealistic as it might be to push a size-12 into the world of high fashion, let's just keep in mind that this is a TV show, and if Tyra Banks and a gaggle of loyal glue-sniffing viewers like myself can't challenge the fashion industry to accommodate a big-boned gal, well, then, who can or will? Why should the finest clothing look good only on the downright bony among us? If designers actually started to create clothing to fit someone Toccara's size, maybe the rest of us wouldn't feel like lumbering behemoths every time we wandered near a rack of tiny, little trendy clothes that were designed for a preteen's body.

It takes a nation of anorexics and pedophiles to hold us back. But that's OK, at least we get to watch Eva walk. Did you see Eva walk in that Diane Von Furstenberg dress? My God, the way her legs swayed, she looked just like one of those fashion sketches, you know, where the torso is about an inch long, and then these long, curvy legs take up the rest of the page? I kept rewinding and watching over and over again. That's why I love this show, Chicken McNuggets. Because you never really know what it's going to take to win it. One girl looks fantastic from Day 1, but can't open her eyes in the giant fish tank they rented for some demented photo shoot. Another girl looks great in every photo, but lets it slip that she doesn't actually give a rat's ass about becoming a model.

Plus, I don't think I need to remind you that there are catfights and weepy confessions and degenerative diseases and mean Mommies and horrible Wal-Mart jobs waiting back home. I don't think I need to mention, once again, that Tyra drags in the most over-the-top collection of circus freaks to boss the girls around (how about the dude with the eye shadow and the dyed-blond handlebar mustache?), or that the girls tend to run around their apartment in their panties, cooking up brownies and vamping in front of the mirror and ripping each other to shreds for fun.

Of course, I'm sure there are some of you who don't like seeing pretty girls in their underwear and don't like watching the pretty girls try on pretty clothes or bitch at each other or cry on the phone to their idiot boyfriends. I'm not sure I can relate to you people.

"Modeling is shallow," you say, and of course you're right. That's why we watch in the first place. Pass the Superglue, dummy.

But the really surprising thing about "America's Next Top Model" is the intelligence and wit and strong personalities of most of the women on the show. Tyra and her casting director really know what they're doing. From Amanda, the feisty, slightly paranoid, witty mother with pale blue eyes that will soon qualify as legally blind, to Ann, the athletic, straight-talking emotional roller coaster, these girls have a lot going on, and every week some new drama ensues, thanks in part to the fact that the producers are hell-bent on torturing the girls.

Last week, they had to rush all over town chatting politely with designers who, in turn, insulted them ruthlessly. (Mark Bauer said he was concerned about the size of one model's hips, then actually pulled out a tape measure and wrapped it around her hips to see how big they were. Um, she's already bulimic, asshole.) The week before that, the girls had to run up 14 flights of stairs, then pose for a photographer at the very moment they wanted to puke their guts out.

Is this whole crazy exercise demeaning and unfair? No more so than the fashion industry itself. If watching these pretty girls weep into their Diet Cokes can make you despise the human beings responsible for setting up an idiotically small body type as the ideal, causing a whole nation of pretty girls to weep into their Diet Cokes just because they ate one too many curly fries for lunch, then Tyra is doing her job. In the meantime, I'm rooting for size-12 Toccara, tiny, little trendy outfits be damned.

Benevolent benefactor
Even though "The Benefactor" ended a few weeks ago, even though you never watched it in the first place, even though ABC condensed the last three episodes into one, you still need to know about one of the best reality TV moments ever.

Basically, billionaire Mark Cuban was trying to decide who to give a million dollars to, and he narrowed it down to three people. In order to collect more information on each contestant, Cuban visited them at home. When Cuban visited Linda, a woman who kept talking about winning the million dollars so she could buy her poor old mom a prosthetic leg, the wheels came off. First Cuban met Linda's mom in her tiny apartment, and everything was fine. Then, Cuban drove out to the countryside to Linda's fabulous house by the coast, with its many, many rooms and its plasma TV over the fireplace. In a voiceover, Cuban gasped, "Maybe she oughta sell some of these high-def televisions -- then she could afford a leg for her mom!"

Later, Linda's friend mentions that Linda uses the Internet all the time, when, on the show, Linda pretended that she was intimidated by computers. "I can't believe that pretty much everything that she said was a complete lie," Cuban groaned at the camera, perhaps underestimating just how popular a good liar can be in this great nation of ours.

But see? Now I'm thinking too much, when I'd really prefer to be snorting gasoline fumes and playing with pots and pans.

Next week: If you drink a full bottle of NyQuil and tune in to "Boston Legal," is it just like watching "Ally McBeal"? Can enough high-grade cocaine make you think that "Joey" is actually "Friends," and the rest of the gang is just out of town or something? What goes better with "The Apprentice" -- Maker's Mark or mushrooms? Tune in and find out!

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  • Heather Havrilesky

    Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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